Fashion Editorials: Pre-Production Through Shoot Day

Fashion Editorials: Pre-Production Through Shoot Day

If there was one thing I wanted to know when I first became interested in shooting editorials, it was "How do I do this?" That seems like a broad question, and it is, but it goes to show what a mysterious subject this was for me. I wanted to know how to get started, and what steps I should take. In this article, I would like to pull back the curtain a bit for people who are interested in getting into editorial work and share what steps I go through to conceptualize, build a team, schedule, and shoot a fashion editorial.

Editorials are tied to stories. Most often, the photos are meant to accompany an article, but in fashion the story is generally in the images with little to no written storyline. This means that when you're designing a a fashion based editorial, you have to have clear storyline that progresses in a way that makes visual sense and feels coherent with the fashion you're presenting.

There are many ways to go about this, but the steps I generally take are listed below.


The conceptualization process is basically taking an idea and fleshing it out into something workable.

My idea was to use a local landmark, the 80-year-old Manitou Springs Penny Arcade, to shoot a vintage inspired editorial that fit the ambience of the landmark.

Take Some Time

I sit with the idea and think my way through the concept from as many angles as I can. Sometimes I'll have music on that helps to put me in the mindset, and sometimes it's just mulling things over as I go through my daily routine. The important part is that I give myself a little bit of time to let the idea solidify and try to hone it down to something workable.

Do Some Research

I want to see what has already been done in this area. This is both to grab ideas that will work for my concept and put my own spin on them, and to be careful not to repeat common tropes. Researching helps me build ideas about lighting, color palette, set design, and so on. I might Google images, use Pinterest, or check through magazines. I also search out locations that fit the theme.

Build a Mood Board

I do this most often on Pinterest because it's pretty comprehensive and easy to use, but building a physical mood board with images from magazines is just as legitimate. I include images that contain the same elements I want to use in my editorial and keep notes for myself about the light quality, color palettes, clothing style, model references, and location types. This is partly for myself, and partly to share with my team so they understand what I'm looking for.

I looked for visually interesting ways to showcase my models while also including aspects of the location that would add ambience to the images.


Pre-production is the time to work your way through everything you'll need to make the shoot a success and prepare clothing, props, set pieces, and gear for the actual shoot itself. It's almost like setting out the drop cloth, priming the canvas, and choosing the brushes before painting. If you have a solid pre-production routine, you'll have a great foundation for an incredible shoot. Below are the steps I go through.

When I scouted the location, I knew I would be using the ambient light in the room which would add atmosphere and a sense of really being in the location.

Location Scouting 

If I'm shooting on location and not building a set, location scouting is invaluable. This lets me see several things such as light quality, color palette, and areas of visual interest. It also allows me to get permissions and find out if there are rules for using the space. For the editorial I've shared in this article, the main rule was that we not create any tripping hazards and make certain that visitors are still be able to use the games. Knowing the rules and seeing how much room we had to work with made a big difference in how I decided to use light. Because of the restrictions and the limited space, I decided to have an assistant hold a speedlight and modifier on a monopod for supplemental light, but rely most upon the blend of natural coming through the windows and artificial light from the vintage arcade games.


This doesn't require drawing skill, but it does force you to think your way through the story to make sure that it is coherent and that the flow makes sense both from a storyline standpoint and in posing, composition, etc. If you'd rather not draw anything, you can also grab images of poses similar to what you've imagined in your set.

Build a Team

Sometimes I already have people in mind because I've worked with them before, and sometimes I need to bring in new team members because of the concept or because I need someone who specializes in certain areas, such as special effects makeup. I'll also send a write-up of the concept and the mood board to the modeling agency that I'm interested in working with to request models who fit my concept. Since this is a fashion editorial, take special care where the fashion is concerned. Working with a designer or stylist is ideal because they can help you present and care for the clothing as well as keeping an eye out for little things you may not notice, like crooked seams.

If you aren't working with modeling agencies, there are sites like Model Mayhem and lots of groups on Facebook dedicated to connecting models and photographers.

Acquire Props

Acquiring props, set pieces, or wardrobe (if you aren't working with a stylist) can take quite a bit of time, so be prepared to spend some money (renting, buying, or building set pieces if you need them) or use your charisma to charm people into lending you items you'll need. If you have a solid body of work and a good reputation, boutiques can often be incredibly generous with their stock. Be creative if you need to. I've found things on OfferUp and in my local thrift stores, or even borrowed pieces from friends.

Create a Call Sheet

If you've never heard of a call sheet, check out the last article I wrote that talks about call sheets and how they can help you organize your production and disseminate information. I make sure all talent and every member of my crew has one, and confirms that they've received it.

Final Prep

The day before the shoot I spend time formatting cards, cleaning lenses, packing gear, double checking the weather (if applicable), and just generally making sure, one last time, that I am as prepared as possible for the photoshoot. This is also the time that I send one last email or text to my crew to make sure everyone is prepped and on board and that they don't need anything from me.

There are other pre-production steps that can be included, like designing a lighting diagram, arranging meals, or having a pre-production meeting with your crew to iron out details, but I only included the steps that I always, or at least most of the time, follow. The other steps get added on a case-by-case basis, depending on what the shoot requires.

I kept my eye open for colors, landmark clues, and ways to pose my models that would do justice to the clothes lent to us by Midnight Rambler boutique in Denver.

I worked with modeling agency Donna Baldwin to bring model Tessa Hooper onto the team, and found freelance model Janelle Tejan through local social networks. Finding great models to work with, that fit the theme, requires mostly time and patience.

Production Day

Show Up Early

This is self-explanatory. I like to be the first one on set because I feel that it sets a good precedent.


Making sure everyone has read the call sheet, understands what they're doing, and is ready for the day is a sure way to get things started on the right foot. I try to have morning snacks on hand to keep the energy up and keep people motivated.

Set Up

If you don't have a space where you can do light tests and set up in advance, this is the time to get your crew moving, or do it yourself. I prefer to have everything prepped in advance if I can, but if not, I can usually get everything set up, get tethered, and do a few tests before my models are out of hair, makeup, and wardrobe.


Finally, the fun part! This is where all the prep work comes in handy. Because of the research, scouting, mood boards, and the storyboarding, I'm able to move through each look smoothly. If you have a shot list, make sure to check things off as you finish them. If you have an assistant, it's really helpful to have them give you reminders of how much time you've got left based on your schedule. If you don't have an assistant, you can put an alarm on your phone to keep you on track, especially if you're working for a client and have to make the most of your time on set. I also like to keep screenshots of my mood board and storyboard on my phone, in addition to printed versions, just to keep my plans at the top of my mind.


Congratulations! Everything is finished and you've got yourself a fashion editorial. When production is wrapped we break everything down and pack it, clean the space if applicable, make certain any clothing or props that are on loan are carefully packed and stowed, and then pat each other on the back. Not going to lie, sometimes we party and sometimes we are so tired that we all stumble home and crash.

Don't forget that you're never finished with a shoot until the images are downloaded and backed up.

My team was pulled from a local network of talent I've built over time. Nichole Renee, Kimberly Clay, Nile Otte, and Erica Baca. Each one brings a level of skill and imagination that raises the production value.

Every photographer will have a slightly different approach and may have more, less, or different steps than I do, but they still finish their shoot with fantastic images. There are as many approaches to creating work as there are photographers but this is how I do it, and I think that if someone had shared this process with me when I was first stepping into this genre, I would have felt much more prepared and made far fewer mistakes.

This kind of approach works for me because I'm a very deliberate photographer and I like to feel prepared and in control. That doesn't mean that I don't improvise or have moments of inspiration during the shoot, but it does mean that I don't have to rely on a last minute visit from the Muses to end up with a solid set.

At the end of the day, everything comes down to acting with intention from the very moment the idea is born, and planning well to bring the idea to life.

If this plan of action isn't one that works for you, don't sweat. Learn from what doesn't work, and alter it so that it does. Don't forget that each time you shoot, you learn something new about the way you work and you can remove, add, or change any of the above steps to better fit the way you work. The most important part is to get started.

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Felix Wu's picture

Total agree with this. I made that same mistake as well thinking pretty girls in pretty outfit = "fashion". In strict sense, in many cases it is not. It's quite a learning curve and I wonder where else could one study that.

Nicole York's picture

I agree with you, Dan. I wrote the article in this way because I discovered that it's really hard to get your hands on great fashion when you're first starting out, particularly if you don't have much of a budget. It wasn't until I had a pretty solid book that I was able to test with stylists who could source great fashion for me, or work with designers who were willing to trust me with their gowns, etc.
I didn't want anyone to feel like they couldn't step into this world because they don't have access to great fashion right away. At least this will get them started.

Jose SEGURA's picture

Nicole, love images 3-7!!! Thanks for sharing.

Nicole York's picture

Thanks very much, Joseph!

Nicole York's picture

Thanks William, I appreciate that and I glad to help!!

Chris Jones's picture

Whoa imagine my surprise when I read this article and see it's at the manitou penny arcade lol I'm planning something there myself, I've only shot there once on a whim with my sister, this article was awesome and very timely!!